Modest fashion hits the catwalk during London show

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An appreciative audience applauds designers.
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Models give observers an idea of fashionable modesty.
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Sara Al-Madani of Rouge Couture, left, with a model.
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Muna Abu Sulayman
Updated 03 March 2017

Modest fashion hits the catwalk during London show

Looking at the throngs of well-dressed women who flocked to the London Modest Fashion Week there was one individual who stood out. She was the one and only woman dressed head to foot in black and covering her face. It was her choice to wear the niqab but at this “modest” event the young, British-born woman with a London accent managed to draw all eyes.
It seemed that everyone else was happy to wear the hijab or an elegant turban. This was an opportunity to see some of the very best designers from around the globe presenting their collections. There was as much glamour and style in the audience as on the catwalk. All who attended were dressed in a modest way but modesty does not mean dull. Some of the outfits were quite stunning and beautifully cut; the range of colors and fabrics made for a fantastic spectacle.
The two-day event held at the Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea, was organized by Romanna bint Abubaker, founder or modest fashion website Haute Elan.
Forty design brands participated, including Art of Heritage and Foulard from Saudi Arabia, Rouge Couture from Dubai and Leenaz from Bahrain.
Sara Al-Madani of Rouge Couture, who serves on the board of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and UAE SME Council, gave a workshop in which she urged women to take control of their lives and not wait for someone to give them permission to follow their dreams.
“I don’t wait for acceptance — take the walls down and create your own life,” she said. She added: “I can be modest, Arabic and Muslim and be myself.”
A single mother of a one-and-a-half-year-old son, Al-Madani revealed that she had had to overcome the near collapse of her company caused by alleged fraud committed by a business partner. “I woke up and found I had zero in my bank account — I lost everything, but I had 39 employees depending on me and I didn’t want to declare bankruptcy,” she said.
She was equally determined not to turn to her parents for help.
Instead she committed to rebuilding the business, which was tough going as she made no money for the first two years of the fight back. “It took me until 2016, just last year, to become steady again,” she said.
Al-Madani looks back at those testing years as an important learning curve.
“Failure pushed me to want to do something — failure is a must,” she said.
To those who say to her “You are so lucky,” she has a message.
“I’m not lucky. I have got to where I am today through blood and sweat. Hard work is essential.”
She urged women to find whatever they are passionate about and commit to the sometimes difficult journey in realizing their goals. “You have to search for it — it is not canned — it is not a hobby,” she said.
At the end of the workshop, Al-Madani said she had something she especially wanted to say. It was a message about being helpful and kind to others who are trying to make their way in the world.
“Help people — show kindness without expecting anything in return,” she said.
In the audience listening to Al-Madani was Muna Abu Sulayman from Saudi Arabia. Arab News asked for her reaction to the workshop. “It was an inspirational and effective talk,” she said.
Asked about her view of the event, she said: “It is important to represent the lifestyles and value options of women who dress demurely.”
Muslims make up a majority of the population in 49 countries around the world. It is estimated that by 2050 the number of Muslims worldwide will grow to 2.76 billion, or 29.7 percent of world’s population.
Industry experts forecast that the modest fashion sector will be worth $327 billion by 2020.
The Art of Heritage show gave the audience a chance to appreciate the traditional designs and adornments of the Saudi culture. The Art of Heritage charitable foundation has some 100 women working permanently and more than 40 working from their homes. To raise income and awareness they create museum standard reproductions and new interpretations of traditional garments and gifts that are all handmade, unique pieces.
Seasonal collections include beautiful thobes and kaftans based on traditional designs from all over the country. The charity also runs Yadawy Pottery, providing employment, training and income for disabled Saudi women who hand make pots and craft items. Art of Heritage was awarded the prestigious Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak award for best charity organization in the Gulf and Middle East region in 2015.
London Modest Fashion Week was an opportunity for some young talent to showcase their designs. Saleha Bagas from Bolton, a town in Greater Manchester in northwest England said: “I feel so at home here — it’s a big, modest community. I’m in my element. This type of event empowers women.”
Anosha Anwary, who comes from Afghanistan and has lived in the UK for 16 years, said: “I hope this event will open many other doors for modest wear designers. I hope it will show Western society that our religion does not limit us from achieving our goals.”
She has a clear vision for her brand. “It is for strong, beautiful and powerful women — that’s how I want them to feel when they wear my clothes,” she said.
Art was also featured at the event with a charity auction of the work of Siddiqa Juma. Guided by the Qur’an and Islamic tradition, Juma creates art that celebrates a rich religious and cultural heritage.
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Women in Egypt’s restive Sinai makes Bedouin face masks

Updated 04 June 2020

Women in Egypt’s restive Sinai makes Bedouin face masks

CAIRO: In El-Arish, the provincial capital of Egypt’s North Sinai, a group of women sew colourful Bedouin designs on masks to combat coronavirus, as an insurgency simmers in their restive region.

Egypt’s toll from the COVID-19 pandemic has reached over 28,600 cases, including more than 1,000 deaths, while North Sinai itself remains the bloody scene of a long-running Islamist insurgency.

“I learnt how to embroider when I was a young girl watching my mother,” homemaker Naglaa Mohammed, 36, told AFP on a landline from El-Arish, as mobile phone links are often disrupted.

Naglaa Mohammed lives in El-Arish. (AFP)

A versatile embroiderer, she also beads garments and crafts rings and bracelets.

Now with the pandemic, she has been designing face masks showcasing her Bedouin heritage.

Bedouins are nomadic tribes who traditionally inhabit desert areas throughout the Arab world, from North Africa to Iraq. Many have now integrated into a more urban lifestyle.

Egypt’s Bedouin textile tradition of tatriz – weaving and beading rich geometric and abstract designs on garments, cushions and purses – has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.

It has survived in the Sinai Peninsula, whose north has been plagued by years of militant activity and terror attacks spearheaded by a local affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group.

Security forces have been locked in a battle to quell an insurgency in the Sinai that intensified after the military’s 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

In February 2018, authorities launched a nationwide operation against militants, focusing on North Sinai.

The beading process takes about two days for each mask, Gharib said. (AFP)

Around 970 suspected militants have since been killed in the region along with dozens of security personnel, according to official figures.

Local and international media are banned from entering heavily militarised North Sinai.

But for Amany Gharib, who founded the El-Fayrouz Association in El-Arish in 2010, the violence has not dissuaded her from keeping Bedouin heritage alive while at the same time empowering local women.

She now employs around 550 women like Mohammed – many of them casually or part-time – as part of a textiles workshop.

“The masks are composed of two layers – one inner layer directly on the face which is disinfected, and the colourful, beaded one outside,” Gharib explained to AFP.

All the women take the necessary precautions while working, including wearing gloves and masks while using sewing machines.

The finished products are washed, packed and shipped off to distribution centres in Cairo, where they are sold online in partnership with Jumia – Africa’s e-commerce giant – for about 40 pounds ($2.50) each.

The beading process takes about two days for each mask, Gharib said.

The finished products are washed, packed and shipped off to distribution centres in Cairo. (AFP)

Amid the volatile security situation, Mohammed has been able to eke out a meagre living with her embroidery skills.

“We work and are given our dues depending on the orders we get... with the masks it has been a new challenge we've tackled,” she said.

Dire economic conditions in Egypt have been even tougher for women of the Sinai since the pandemic began.

“Times are really tough for the women but we have adjusted,” Gharib said.

And while militant attacks on security checkpoints have continued, Gharib expressed confidence in the army.

“We feel a sense of security and stability with the military presence. We trust them,” she said.

The region witnessed the deadliest terror attack in Egypt’s modern history when militants killed more than 300 worshippers in a mosque in November 2017.

Gharib said that in North Sinai’s tight-knit community, each family knew someone who had been killed in an attack.

“Anyone of us who is killed, we consider them a martyr,” she said.

“We are in a war with terror... but the people have learnt to live with it.”